How to Become a Highway Patrol Officer in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a highway patrol officer. Learn about training and education requirements, job duties and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Law Enforcement degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Highway Patrol Officer Do?

As a highway patrol officer, you work at the state level as an enforcement official who monitors state and interstate highways and enforces state motor vehicle laws. These officers stop people who are speeding, driving recklessly, or who are obviously not abiding by state driving laws. They may also perform routine stops at random. Highway patrol officers may collaborate with other state and federal police and detective agencies if there is criminal activity that crosses over state lines. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required High school diploma; certificate or associate's degree may be required in some states
Training Required Highway patrol officer training, requirements vary by state
Key Responsibilities Monitor state and interstate highways, enforce established laws, respond to emergencies, write incident reports
Licensure Valid driver's license
Job Growth (2014-2024) 5% (for all police and sheriff's patrol officers)*
Average Salary (2015) $61,270 (for police and sheriff's patrol officers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Highway Patrol Officer?

Highway patrol officers are state-level law enforcement officials, often referred as state police or state troopers. Their primary responsibilities are to monitor state and interstate highways and enforce state motor vehicle laws. They will also assist local police, particularly in small towns and rural areas. In addition to knowledge of the law, they need knowledge of firearms, computers, radar guns and other technology. Their duties include observing traffic, stopping speeders and drunk drivers and responding to emergencies. Other duties include aiding accident victims, arresting crime suspects, writing incident reports and testifying in court.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school-level education is the minimum required in some states for employment as a highway patrol officer. You may even gain general knowledge of police work if your school is among those that has a partnership with local police departments or a police academy on campus. Police academy high schools may integrate law enforcement themes and concepts into their science, social science and language courses. Your participation in sports is helpful for maintaining your physical fitness.

Step 2: Attend College

Some states may require you to complete college courses or earn a degree to become a trooper. Many colleges offer certificate and associate's degree programs in law enforcement or criminal justice with a law enforcement emphasis that meet the requirement. These programs cover basic policing procedures, communication and public interaction techniques, fundamentals of crime investigation, report writing and other related topics. A certificate may be earned in a year. Associate's degrees are typically earned in two years.

Step 3: Obtain Employment

To gain employment you must meet your state's minimum age threshold and pass physical, vision and psychological exams. You may also need a valid driver's license and a clean driving record, as well as have no criminal convictions. In many states the minimum age to become a trooper is 21. States employed approximately 59,390 police and sheriff's patrol officers as of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected employment for all police and sheriff's patrol officers to grow a modest 5% by 2024.

Step 4: Complete Patrol Officer Training

Your state may have you participate in a training program, often taking 12-14 weeks, for highway patrol officers. Training takes place at the state's policy academy and familiarizes you with constitutional law, state law, local ordinances, civil rights and accident investigation techniques. You will also take part in supervised patrol and traffic control exercises and receive instruction in self-defense, first aid, emergency response and use of firearms.

Step 5: Consider Advancement Opportunities

Your options for advancement are to move laterally within state law enforcement or attempt to rise through the hierarchy. A typical state police chain of command progresses through trooper, corporal and sergeant to lieutenant, captain and major. The highest ranks are lieutenant colonel and colonel. Promotions are based on seniority, on-the-job performance and exam results. Some states also require that candidates for lieutenant and captain have a bachelor's degree.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a number of other careers in law enforcement that individuals may be interested in pursuing. They could become police officers, private detectives, or investigators. Careers as firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics are also possibilities for individuals who are able to work well under pressure during emergency situations. If they are interested in working in prison and jail facilities, individuals could pursue jobs as correctional officers. These jobs all have similar education requirements to those for highway patrol officers, with most requiring only a high school diploma plus training; EMTs and firefighters must typically also complete a certificate or associate's degree program.

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